QUESTION: I’m living on just my retirement during this pandemic. How can I stretch my dollars?
ANSWER: Making ends meet on what normally is a limited monthly income can be challenging for many retirees and that’s particularly true during a pandemic.
COVID-19 mandated restrictions have reduced some routine expenditures, such as eating out in restaurants, going to entertainment venues and sporting events. Likewise, other costs likely have increased, such as groceries, in-home entertainment, medical services and prescriptions.
As with most personal finances, keeping a balance between resources and expenses is important for retirees and for everyone during a pandemic.
To determine which costs have increased or decreased, review the past several months of household expenses. Assuming rent or mortgage, insurance premiums and auto loan payments remain constant, determine which budget items might cost more now – such as groceries, cable TV, Internet and medicines.
Next, list those expenses that have decreased – such as restaurant/bar expenditures, live entertainment costs and gasoline. Then compare the totals for the net result. If your overall household disbursements have decreased consider putting the monthly difference in a saving account. If expenses are greater now, then consider how to reduce other costs or increase income.
Depending on how much you need to save, there are major changes or minor adjustments that you can make.
Refinancing your home mortgage to a lower interest rate is a major modification that likely would save tens of thousands of dollars over the course of the loan and reduce monthly payments. On a smaller scale, shop smarter at the grocery store by choosing generic brands, buying in-season produce and joining the store’s loyalty program, all of which can trim dollars off your food bill.
If you’re outsourcing some home tasks such as cleaning, lawn care or laundry services, you might consider doing these chores yourself, if feasible. While these services are time savers and convenient, their costs can add up. Suspending their use during the pandemic will save money.
Additionally, you may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate on your credit cards by calling the issuers – particularly if your credit score is good and payment history is up to date. The monthly reduction might be negligible, but over time the savings can add up and contribute to your financial well-being, according to Forbes Advisor.
Another option is to transfer high-interest credit card balances to a card with a zero percent rate for a limited period – sometimes as long as 18-21 months. By taking advantage of a zero percent APR offer, all of your payments will go towards reducing the principal, Forbes Advisor added.
To increase income, consider a part-time job or consulting work. Unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak has ravaged the job market. For the week ending January 30, 2021, 17.8 million people collected unemployment benefits which is the highest level of unemployment since the Department of Labor began tracking data.
While many in-person jobs categories are down, the pandemic has made working from home more accessible. According to data collected by compensation research firm PayScale, bookkeepers, paralegals and consumer service representatives are among the most common part-time jobs held by workers 55 and older, and many of these duties can be performed from home.
Financially surviving the pandemic can be challenging and will require planning and discipline in both spending and money management.